Climbing Chamundi Hill: 1001 Steps with a Storyteller and a Reluctant Pilgrim

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9780060508944: Climbing Chamundi Hill: 1001 Steps with a Storyteller and a Reluctant Pilgrim

At the top of the 1,001 steps up Chamundi Hill, deep in India, lies a twelfth-century temple that houses a golden statue of Chamundi, the Hindu goddess worshipped by the Maharajas. A popular tourist and pilgrimage site, Chamundi Hill honors this consort of Shiva who saved the citizens of the city of Mysore from the monstrous rule of their mythical demon-king.

In Climbing Chamundi Hill, Ariel Glucklich takes the reader on a mystical adventure to this enchanted place. A young American tourist goes out for a jog and rests at the base of some ancient stone steps to rub his aching feet. Seeing him take off his running shoes, a retired Indian librarian stops and asks him if he, too, is preparing to make the pilgrimage up Chamundi Hill -- a pilgrimage often made in bare feet. The old Indian offers to tell him some stories to pass the time -- mystical stories of gods and demons, holy men and courtesans, talking animals, and charming thieves. Thus begins an unexpected journey of spiritual enlightenment for narrator and reader alike.

Many of these rich, colorful stories -- originally told in the ancient languages of India -- are translated here into English for the first time. Read about a common weaver who dyes his skin blue and disguises himself as the god Vishnu to win the hand of a princess; and the self-sacrificeof King Karan, who each morning allows himself to be fried in a vat of cooking oil and eatenby a Tantric sorcerer in exchange for a bucket of gold the king distributes to his grateful, but unsuspecting subjects. There are funny stories such as the merchant's love-struck son, Udhay, who is swindled by a wily dancer, and of his father's elaborate scam to recapture his fortune with a monkey that spits out pieces of gold. Delight in the Sanskrit tutor's faithful wife, Upakosha -- with coral lips and lotus-blue eyes -- and her clever capture of the four royal ministers who try to blackmail her for sexual favors while her husband is away on a pilgrimage in the Himalayas.

The old Indian librarian relates these wonderful tales and, serving as guru, debates their spiritual meaning with his new American companion. From beginning to end, Climbing Chamundi Hill is an enchanting guidebook to the difficult path of spiritual liberation, and a philosophical window into the meaning of life.

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About the Author:

Ariel Glucklich is an associate professor of Hinduism at Georgetown University, as well as an expert in Sanskrit literature. A former Senior Fulbright Fellow in India, Glucklich is trained in Indian philosophy and theology. The most recent of Glucklich's five books is Sacred Pain, which won an award for excellence from the American Academy of Religion.

From Publishers Weekly:

Religion scholar Glucklich (Sacred Pain: Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul) presents 30 ancient Hindu folktales, slotting them into the contrived story of an unnamed American biologist in South India. While walking barefoot near the sacred site of Chamundi Hill (simply because he wants to dry his wet sneakers), the narrator meets P.K. Shivaram, a retired librarian, who mistakes the biologist for a pilgrim and takes pity on his tender foreign feet. As they approach the 1,001 steps leading to a 12th-century Chamundi temple, the "tiny wrinkled man in brown polyester pants and worn out rubber thongs" distracts the biologist from his aching feet by telling him pilgrimage stories. The rather preachy riddles and fables, some of which are translated from Sanskrit for the first time, feature casts of kings, demons and talking animals and deliver pat moral lessons. The narrator and librarian dissect each tale on a metaphorical journey to Nirvana-a technique that feels irksomely artificial-and Glucklich dumbs down his American narrator (says the narrator to his guide: "First Shiva, now Vishnu-you know, I never could figure out your complicated polytheism"). In a few instances, Glucklich presents meaningful reflections: "No event in your life is a simple objective fact. It always means something to the memory-processing mind." Still, the flashes of substance feel isolated within a narrative that struggles to reach enlightenment.
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